Yesterday, a group of 1,000 Jewish activists and allies took to the streets of Boston to protest the conditions in migrant detention camps on the southern border, according to the Boston Globe. The protest was organized by Jewish organization Never Again Action and the immigrant rights group Movimiento Cosecha.
Many protesters held signs reading “close the camps,” referencing a recent controversy prompted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s description of the Trump administration’s detention centers as “concentration camps.”
The ongoing tsuris over whether the god-awful hellholes where we are holding families and children qualify as concentration camps has sparked debate between Jewish organizations, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and lawmakers. But the young Jews who attended the protest in Boston support Ocasio-Cortez’s position.
“When we grew up hearing the words ‘never again,’ it’s referring to a moment like this,” Michaela Caplan, 23, an organizer of the event, told the Globe. Caplan’s grandmother survived Auschwitz, and 30 of her family members died in the Holocaust.
The Boston protest is part of a nationwide movement by young Jews to protest the rise of migrant detention in the U.S. Last Sunday, 36 activists were arrested in New Jersey in a similar protest.
The march began at Boston’s Holocaust memorial. Protesters held signs with slogans like “Resisting Tyrants Since Pharoah” and “Anne Frank Was Turned Away.” They shut down traffic and occupied the entrance to an ICE detention center in the South End, where 18 protesters were arrested.
“I think it’s particularly important for Jews, who face anti-Semitism, and have an ancestral history of trauma, to speak out on behalf of other people,” Rabbi Becky Silverstein, who attended the protest, told the Globe.
These protesters are bucking much of the Jewish establishment by endorsing the comparison between Trump’s migrant camps and the Holocaust. Groups including the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, and the Republican Jewish Coalition came out against Ocasio-Cortez’s statements, saying it was offensive to Holocaust survivors.
In its terrible statement about the controversy, the Holocaust Museum said that it “unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary.” In response, over 140 Holocaust and genocide experts wrote an open letter in the New York Review of Books earlier this week agreeing with Ocasio-Cortez’s description of the camps.
“There’s a degree of difference within the Jewish community about how to invoke comparisons from any situation directly to the Holocaust,” Jeremy Burton, the executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, told the Globe. He also acknowledged “revulsion” from the Jewish community at the current treatment of migrants and asylum seekers.
Burton added that one lesson of the Holocaust is a “deep moral imperative to protest against human rights violations being done in our name, because when we fail to protest, those who are acting in such a way will see that as permission to do worse.”
“For Jewish activists who are using the phrase ‘Never Again,’ it’s because we know what happens when we stand by and allow atrocities to unfold without speaking out,” Stosh Cotler, the CEO of progressive Jewish group Bend the Arc, told the Globe.
Cotler said that the debate over “whether we call them concentration camps or mass detention centers or cages for children” distract from the “moral abomination” of recent events.